Paul Laverty

Sorry We Missed You

02/11/19

Ken Loach is clearly enjoying his ‘retirement.’ Many will remember that in 2014 the rather underwhelming Jimmy’s Hall was widely trumpeted as his farewell film. But the woeful political climate that blossomed in that film’s aftermath prompted him to return in 2016, with I, Daniel Blake, which turned out to be one of the most powerful films of a long and varied career. Sorry We Missed You is his damning look at the so-called gig economy, and the desperate straits so many of its employees find themselves in.

After a series of employment disasters, Ricky Turner (Chris Hitchins) is looking for a new start and thinks he’s found it when a friend recommends a career as a ‘self-employed’ delivery driver. However, as head man Gavin Maloney (Ross Brewster) explains, Ricky won’t be working for the company, but with them.  He will be responsible for any packages that don’t make it to their destination on time, and his progress will be monitored, not by other human beings but by the piece of tech he carries with him at all times – and which, if damaged, will cost his a thousand pounds to replace.

In other words, Ricky will enjoy no workers’ rights whatsoever – and every tiny mistake he makes will count against him financially.

It doesn’t start well. Ricky needs a deposit to buy a van and manages to persuade his wife, care-worker Abby (Debbie Honeywood), to sell her car in order to fund it. Abby is already being pushed to the limit, both by her punishing work schedule and by her teenage son, Sebastian (Rhys Stone), an ambitious graffiti artist who is reluctant to buckle down and gain an education, when it looks like the road will inevitably lead to the same precarious existence his parents are struggling though. His younger sister, Liza Jane (Debbie Proctor), just longs for a quieter, happier existence. But Abby goes along with the idea, even though it means getting to her elderly ‘clients’ will be even harder when travelling by public transport.

The performances by the four leads are compelling. The Turners are completely convincing as a family unit and it’s particularly affecting to watch Ricky’s transformation from a happy-go-lucky grafter to a careworn, exhausted wage slave who can barely stay awake at the wheel of his delivery van.

Sorry We Missed You is a hard watch. Scripted, as ever, by Paul Laverty,  it does have a few brighter passages, but most of its content is the slow, punishing descent to disaster, which at times I watch in extreme agitation, lost in a rising tide of anger. This is the awful reality of life in Tory Britain for the disadvantaged: a shameful, blistering  indictment of the government’s current policies and a society that concentrates on the balance sheets at the expense of those struggling to exist in the lower echelons of society. I cry quite a bit during this film, and the chances are, you will too.

Once again, Loach has his finger on the nation’s pulse – and the prognosis is bad. So, this won’t be your choice for a pleasant evening at the cinema. But please go and see it. It’s an important film and, as the country heads towards another general election, a timely reminder of how you might decide to vote.

4.6 stars

Philip Caveney

Jimmy’s Hall

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04/10/14

A new film by Ken Loach is usually a cause for much celebration, but Jimmy’s Hall falls somewhat short of his own impeccable standards. Of course, he’s done Ireland before (much more successfully) with The Wind That Shakes The Barley, a film so filled with anger that it makes for uncomfortable (though riveting) viewing. With this story, Loach’s longtime screenwriter Paul Laverty, homes in on a much more intimate real life story, set in Co Leitrim in the late 1930’s. Jimmy Gralton (Barry Ward) returns to his hometown after a ten year exile in New York. Back in the day, he  fell foul of the authorities with his ownership of a local dancehall, which was seen by many to be a focus for discord and (God forbid) communism. But he isn’t back home long before the local youth start pestering him to open up the dance hall again, arguing that these are more enlightened times and surely nobody could possibly object.

It doesn’t take long to discover that the times are nothing of the kind. Gralton comes up against his former adversary, Father Sheridan (Jim Norton) an embittered old priest who thinks he sees communists lurking behind every tree and it isn’t long before the dancehall becomes a target of every hardliner in the vicinity. Gralton’s attempts to make the church accept that those who come to his hall are merely looking for entertainment and education, are doomed to failure.

It’s an interesting little story, but there may not have been enough meat here to base an entire film around. All of Loach’s trademark tropes are present and correct – improvised sequences featuring non-professional actors, naturalistic sound and extended crowd scenes, but in this film, the latter only serve to give proceedings a funereal pace and the story rarely generates any real sparks of life. Loach has been quoted as saying that Jimmy’s Hall may be his final movie, but I sincerely hope not. I’d like to see him go out on a stronger note than this.

3 stars

Philip Caveney